LOS ANGELES – AEG Live co-CEO Paul Gongaware, whose career as a concert promoter started with Elvis Presley's last tours, testifies Tuesday about Michael Jackson's final days.
Gongaware, who was one of the top producers of Jackson's comeback concerts, takes the stand as the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial enters its fifth week in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Jackson's mother and children are suing AEG Live for liability in the pop icon's death, accusing the concert promoter of negligently hiring, retaining or supervising Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
AEG lawyers contend that Michael Jackson chose, hired and supervised Murray and that his bad decisions were fueled by a drug addiction their executives had no way of knowing about.
The Elvis connection
Elvis' name is expected to come up as Jackson's lawyers question Gongaware about his knowledge of drug use during concert tours. He should have been able to recognize red flags warning about Jackson's drug use because of his experience with Presley and his time as Jackson's tour manager in the 1990s, they contend.
When Gongaware was managing Jackson's 1993 tour he warned the tour doctor "Don't be a Dr. Nick" – a reference to Elvis Presley's last physician – the doctor testified in a deposition.
"Dr. Nick was the doctor whose overprescription of drugs to Elvis had led to Elvis' death," according to a court filing by lawyers for the Jackson family.
Presley collapsed in the bathroom of his Memphis, Tennessee, mansion – Graceland – oon August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. While his death was ruled the result of an irregular heartbeat, the autopsy report was sealed amid accusations that abuse of prescription drugs caused the problem.
"Dr. Nick" – Dr. George Nichopoulos – said later he was treating Presley for insomnia. He was charged with over-prescribing drugs to Presley, but he was acquitted. He later lost his medical license in another case.
Jackson died on June 25, 2009, at the age of 50. The coroner ruled his death was caused by a fatal combination of sedatives and the surgical anesthetic propofol. Murray told investigators he gave Jackson nightly infusions of propofol to treat his insomnia. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to four years in prison and stripped of his medical license.
The Jackson lawyers are using Gongaware's Elvis and "Dr. Nick" reference to argue that "AEG knew Jackson had suffered chronic substance abuse and drug dependency problems for many years."
"Shortly after he joined the 'Dangerous' tour in 1993, Dr. Finkelstein was asked to treat Jackson for pain," the Jackson filing said, referring to Dr. Stuart Finkelstein, a doctor on the 1993 tour.
"Having observed signs of opiate addiction in Jackson, Dr. Finkelstein nonetheless administered Demerol by injection, and administered morphine intravenously in Jackson's Bangkok hotel room for 24 hours."
After that, Finkelstein told Gongaware "he thought Jackson had an opiate dependency problem," the filing said.
"For three and a half months, the 'Dangerous' tour continued," it said. "Another doctor attended Jackson regularly, on one occasion breaking into Dr. Finkelstein's bag to get opiates to administer to Jackson. Gongaware was there the whole time, in charge of tour logistics, aware of the various physicians present, and he discussed with Dr. Finkelstein Jackson's opiate problem."
When Gongaware warned Dr. Finkelstein, who the brief described as his "close friend," not to become Jackson's "Dr. Nick," he was "warning me, you know, don't get all infatuated where you start administering meds to a rock star and have the rock star overdose and die on you," Dr. Finkelstein testified.